2012 APA Distinguished Scientific Award recipients

Both senior and early career researchers are recognized for major contributions to psychological science.

The American Psychological Association is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2012 APA Distinguished Scientific Awards. 

These awards, which are among the highest honors for scientific achievement by psychologists, are made in three categories:

  • The Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award recognizes senior scientists for distinguished theoretical or empirical contributions to basic research in psychology. This award, which was first made in 1956, is typically given to three scientists each year.

  • The Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology recognizes psychologists who have made distinguished theoretical or empirical advances in psychology leading to the understanding or amelioration of important practical problems. This award, which was first made in 1973, is typically given to one scientist each year. 

  • The Award for Distinguished Early Career Scientific Contribution to Psychology recognizes excellent psychologists who are at early stages of their research careers (up to 10 years after receiving their doctorates). The award, which was first made in 1974, is currently given to scientists in five specific research areas each year. (A total of ten research areas are considered, with each area covered in alternating years.)

The Committee on Scientific Awards, which is overseen by the APA Board of Scientific Affairs and staffed by the APA Science Directorate, selects the recipients of these awards on the basis of nominations submitted by a wide range of scientists and institutions. Reviewers with expertise in particular areas of research provide further advice to the committee. 

The recipients will accept their awards at a ceremony at the 2012 APA Convention in Orlando, Florida, and will be guests of honor at the Science Directorate's reception at the Convention. The winners of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award and the Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology will also deliver featured lectures at the Convention. 

The recipients and their award citations are shown below. Further information about the recipients' backgrounds and research will appear in the November awards issue of American Psychologist.

2012 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Awards

Edward F. Diener, University of Illinois

Edward F. Diener Citation:  For pioneering and inspiring the scientific pursuit of happiness and positive well-being. Edward F. Diener has been a leader in every aspect of well-being research. He provided an influential conception of well-being as consisting of cognitive and emotional elements. He co-authored an influential satisfaction with life scale and has used and refined many well-being research techniques, including anthropological observation, studies of time use, international polls and government assessments of citizen well-being. He explored the effects of inequality, social support and other life circumstances on well-being and discovered surprising differences in the time course of adaptation to states such as marriage and unemployment.

Michael J. Meaney, McGill University

Michael J. MeaneyCitation:  For innovative studies elucidating fundamental brain mechanisms in mother–infant interactions in animals that have broad implications for the human condition. Michael J. Meaney has taken the phenomenon of "handling" of newborn rats and opened a new area of investigation that has given new meaning to epigenetics via his work demonstrating transgenerational behavioral transmission to offspring of exploratory, nurturing and anxiety-related behaviors. He has also used this model to demonstrate reversible, early-life epigenetic modifications of genes in the infant brain by DNA methylation that affect gene expression and that lead to behavioral characteristics in response to stressors that can last throughout the life span. His studies have also shown a pathway for translation of these processes to the human condition and, in so doing, have inspired a new generation of basic and translational research on gene–environment interactions in early life that affect the brain and behavior.

Daniel L. Schacter,  Harvard University

Daniel L. SchacterCitation:  For his pioneering work on the cognitive neuroscience of memory. Daniel L. Schacter's major theoretical and empirical contributions include groundbreaking research on the psychological and neural foundations of implicit and explicit memory, memory distortions and errors and prospective episodic thought. He has propelled the field of cognitive neuroscience, first through studies of patients suffering anterograde amnesia and subsequently through functional brain imaging studies. Concurrently, he has authored award-winning books on the workings of memory (Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past; The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers). By characterizing memory's pervasive influence on how we think and who we are, he has taught the world about memory's fragile power.

2012 Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology

Kelly D. Brownell, Yale University 

Kelly D. BrownellCitation:  For outstanding contributions to our understanding of the etiology and management of obesity and the crisis it poses for the modern world. A seminal thinker in the field, Kelly D. Brownell has been a persuasive proponent of the view that the surge in obesity is attributable to a "toxic food environment" that includes easy access to abundant but energy-dense and aggressively marketed food. An exemplary leader, he has inspired students and colleagues alike through his tenacious advocacy of the social and behavioral sciences in the public interest.



2012 Awards for Distinguished Early Career Scientific Contribution to Psychology

Animal Learning and Behavior, Comparative

Friederike Range,  University of Vienna

Friederike RangeCitation:  For outstanding contributions to the understanding of the complex social minds of nonhuman animals. Through ingenious experimental approaches, Friederike Range has opened windows into the social cognition of monkeys, ravens, dogs and wolves. With dogs, she was the first to apply the touch screen paradigm and she has conducted groundbreaking studies on selective imitation and inequity avoidance. By co-founding new research facilities, such as the Clever Dog Lab and the Wolf Science Center, she has created novel opportunities for future scientific developments and for a new generation of young researchers.

Laurie R. Santos, Yale University

Laurie R. SantosCitation:  For creative and insightful investigations of cognition across a broad range of species and psychological domains, illuminating cognitive development and cognitive evolution. Laurie R. Santos links many branches of psychological inquiry in her research, including animal behavior, comparative psychology, developmental psychology, judgment and decision making and social psychology. In particular, her studies of biases, irrationalities and errors—where rational decision making fails, rather than succeeds—are providing remarkable insights into how cognitive biases evolved and how decision making operates at a fundamental level. Her accomplishments beautifully illustrate the power of comparative studies of animal learning and behavior to help us understand the human mind.

Friederike Range and Laurie Santos are being recognized for their individual contributions.

Cognition and Human Learning

Thomas L. Griffiths, University of California, Berkeley

Thomas L. GriffithsCitation:  For bringing mathematical precision to the deepest questions in human learning, reasoning and concept formation. In his pioneering work, Thomas L. Griffiths has used probabilistic models and Bayesian learning methods to illuminate an extraordinarily wide range of problems in areas including causal reasoning, high-level hierarchical thinking, cultural evolution, theory formation and cognitive development while also showing that thinking probabilistically can provide a genuine resolution of the age-old tension between nativism and empiricism. His rigorous mathematical and computational abilities are accompanied by an immensely creative imagination, a sure sense of the important problem and an unerring touch for the right experiment.

Developmental Psychology

Bob McMurray, University of Iowa

Bob McMurrayCitation:  For pioneering research on speech and language processing in infants and adults. Bob McMurray has conducted influential work on the graded nature of speech categories, demonstrating within-category sensitivity in the service of efficient processing and optimal cue integration during online comprehension.  He has also applied a rigorous computational approach to learning and development, revealing the emergence of stable categories in the face of extraneous variability and the rapid growth of childhood vocabulary within the context of a parallel dynamic system.  Finally, he has developed innovative eye-tracking methods to study category learning in normal infants and adults as well as the time course of language processing in special populations.
Health Psychology

Angela J. Grippo, Northern Illinois University

Angela J. GrippoCitation:  For her creative contributions in investigating the association between depression and cardiovascular disease in preclinical animal models. Using sophisticated behavioral and neuroscience methods, Angela J. Grippo found changes in sympathetic tone, immune system activation and serotonin levels, as well as increased susceptibility to life-threatening arrhythmias, in a rodent model of depression, changes similar to those observed in humans with depression and heart disease. Her research illustrates how animal models of physiology and behavior advance understanding of the connections among depression, stress and physical disease in humans.


Bethany Ann Teachman,  University of Virginia

Bethany Ann TeachmanCitation:  For transformative, translational research integrating social cognition, life-span, and perceptual approaches to investigating clinical phenomena both in the lab and over the course of treatment in unique and externally valid ways. Using elegant and incisive methods, Bethany Ann Teachman has identified cognitive processes that contribute to the development and maintenance of fear and anxiety disorders, especially thinking that occurs outside of conscious control. Her work shows the critical need to consider the role of automatic processing of emotional information in order to understand, for example, the seemingly irrational cognitions that accompany panic attacks in otherwise highly rational individuals.